The Following thought for the day was written by Brother Richard Morgan and provides insight and encouragement for those seeking to serve the God of Israel.
In the Hebrew Bible, the title of the book we call Exodus is Sh’mot – Names. This is because originally the first word of each book in the Law was the title. So, in our English versions of Exodus 1:1, when we read, “These are the names…” it’s actually just this one word in Hebrew – sh’mot.
It’s the perfect title because it is precisely what the Book of Exodus is about – it is the book of Names. It’s the book where God reveals his name to Moses at the burning bush (chapter 3) and expands on that by explaining that his name is his character (Exodus 34.) As you read through Exodus, watch out for other occurrences of names. For instance, when describing the High Priest’s clothing, we’re told that on the gemstones on the shoulder pieces and breastplate were the names of the children of Israel.
Often people are named in Exodus so that we might remember them. That’s the case in chapter 1, where the sons of Jacob are mentioned by name even though they had all died hundreds of years earlier. The two midwives are named in the same chapter, memorializing their bravery forever. It’s also significant that some people are not named in the book of Exodus, most notably Pharaoh and his magicians.
What is the significance of names? In today’s world, names don’t carry much weight beyond being labels to usefully identify one another, although the number of times I call our pet dog by the cat’s name or one of my daughters’ by the cat’s name you’d think they would stick better. But in the Bible, names are much more important than mere labels. Think of the number of times people were named because of something significant that happened at their birth, like Isaac or Jacob, for example. Names in Scripture are more to do with one’s reputation, similar to how we use the expression about someone “having a good name.”
The book of Exodus is very much to do with Yahweh’s reputation. The Hebrews had gotten all mixed up in the paganism of Egypt, so God needed them to get to know him. First, it was the plagues and other miracles, then the giving of his law at Sinai. But, most importantly, God wanted them to know who he is – the essence of his character and everything he stands for. That’s why Yahweh told Moses on the mountain that he is a God of compassion, love, and justice. Another key idea in Exodus is to do with knowing someone. God wants us to know who he is. Not just that he exists but what kind of God he is, and he wants us to know it through experience, the type of experience the children of Israel had when God rescued them out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness. That’s how we get to know God and appreciate who he is – it’s the process of learning his name.
All of which leads us to the fourth commandment – “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exo. 20:7). I don’t think that’s just about avoiding using the name of God lightly as a curse word. It’s about whether we truly value who God is. Think of it this way by considering those names inscribed on the gemstones in the High Priest’s clothing. The High Priest pointed forward to our Lord Jesus Christ, and he carried the names of the children of Israel on his shoulders and his heart. Jesus does the same for us. He bears us and has us in his heart. Our High Priest has our names right there with him at God’s right hand. In other words, God cares deeply about us and knows us all by name. And think again about the names of the sons of Jacob, dead for hundreds of years but recalled at the beginning of Exodus. God didn’t forget them. In fact, when God revealed his name to Moses at the bush, he said he is, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” (Exo. 3:16). Jesus quoted this verse and said it means, “he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” (Luke 20:38). We’re not employees in a big corporation like the Hebrews would have been to Pharaoh and the taskmasters. God cares about us and knows us each by name and remembers those who have died, forever.
Do we have the same care for God’s name, his reputation? We say we’re Christadelphians, brothers in hrist, the Son of God. That should mean we stand for everything God stands for – things like compassion, generosity, patience, loyalty, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice. When we proclaim we’re God’s people but treat his qualities lightly, we’re taking the name of God in vain. When we say we’re brothers and sisters in Christ but are dismissive, lacking empathy, mean, betrayers of one another, controlling, unfaithful, unforgiving, and unjust, we’re taking the name of God in vain. When David sinned with Bathsheba, he caused the enemies of God to blaspheme his name (2 Sam. 12:14; Rom. 2:24). Why is that? Because they looked at David and thought, “I don’t think much of his God if his representative sinks to that level!”